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Archive for the ‘Election 2012’ Category


There’s a lot of talk these days about the big choices this election holds for all of us. It’s true–the stakes in this election could hardly be higher. Like everyone else, I’ve watched as spin became lies, was exposed as such, and somehow still remained a part of our political conversation. The cumulative effect has been, I suspect, a sort of national case of disassociation–we have been asked to believe twelve impossible things before breakfast, and, rather than calling bulls*t, we have tried. Oh, we have tried.

I can’t speak for you, but for myself, I have to say that the result hasn’t been pretty. There’s the perennial, “Hey, wait…” reaction when I hear one of the tired old canards trotted out and whipped round the track for the bazillionth time. There’s the anger that we never seem to move beyond this. There’s the frustration at the thought that millions of Americans are apparently being taken in by a group who has openly disavowed any ties to reality. And most of all, there’s the sneaking fear that I’m going crazy.

This political campaign defies logic. A candidate who has flipped and flopped and flailed around and openly taken to political whoring in pursuit of the Oval Office should have been laughed out of the race by now. But he hasn’t. And I think the reason is really very simple. I think the reason why Mitt Romney is still in the race is because while those of us in the dwindling middle class all want pretty much the same things–we want social and financial stability, a secure old age, college education for ourselves and our children, and the hope that when we leave we’ll have enough to leave a little behind–on a deeper level we really only want one thing–we want to be safe.

The question is, how do we achieve that? I am reminded of my medieval English lit class. Medieval English literature reflects the two prevalent cultures in Britain at the time: Anglo-Saxon culture, which had its roots in North Central Europe, where winters were savage, life was harsh, and wolves were fierce; and Celtic culture, which had its roots in the softer, milder climates of southern Europe. Anglo-Saxon literature’s most famous poem is Beowulf. Celtic poetry is less well-known, but much of it is short, lyric poems about the beauties of nature, myth, and tradition.

Beowulf happens in a dark, gloomy, savage, cold, and dangerous world where monsters prowl. Safety is to be found by shutting out everyone and every thing except for one’s sworn brothers and fellow knights.. The horror of the poem comes when Grendel, the monster from the mire, actually invades the hall, Heorot.

The world of the Celtic poems is very different. Many seem to have been written by hermit monks, who lived largely solitary in small huts out in nature. The poems speak of the joy of sunny days, the beauty of birds singing in bushes, the pleasure to be found in watching one’s house cat hunt for a mouse. They tell snippets of legends, fragments of stories. These poems speak of a world in which safety is found not by walling out the world, but by making one’s self a part of it, becoming a piece of the whole, forming bonds of love, friendship, and support with the animals, plants, and people that make up the world.

Which brings me to this campaign. Mr. Romney’s worldview is in many respects akin to the Anglo-Saxon view. He has spent most of his life in a world preserved by exclusion. He has built his safety behind walls of wealth, religion, and society. He sees financial success as something one achieves on one’s own, or with the help of one’s parents. One builds a wall, and then builds one’s success behind it, locked away from the rest of the world. One succeeds or fails on one’s own (or with the help of the folks). Professionally he has operated in a world famed for secrecy–call it “confidentiality,” if you will. One of the ongoing stories of this campaign has been his refusal to disclose details of his professional dealings–or even the customary number of tax returns. (He demanded the returns of his VP pick, but never mind.) When he speaks of international relations he speaks less of alliances than of a “strong military.” He doesn’t offer many details, but then again, I suspect they aren’t really important to him. What is important is the wall. Some members of the GOP are actually pushing for the erection of a literal wall along our southern border. Stripping all this down to fundamentals, what we are left with is that for Mr. Romney, safety lies in Heorot–America huddled around a warm fire behind tall, thick walls, hoping and praying that Grendel never gets in.

President Obama, on the other hand, sees safety less in walls than in alliances. His life has been lived as a global citizen in some respects–he spent his childhood, in part, in Indonesia, and in multi-cultural Hawaii. He was a member of a non-traditional family. When he left school he became a community organizer, helping poor and middle-class people form alliances. When he speaks of international policy he speaks of building global alliances, of acting in concert with other nations for our mutual good. When he speaks of domestic policy he speaks of our commonality, of the growing separation between rich and poor that’s killing us socially and economically, of the need for all of us to have a certain level of safety, if any of us are to be truly safe.

I don’t see this as an election about right-and-left politics. Mr. Romney has, if anything, shown himself to be a man who governs in response to the deepest pockets and loudest voices. He has played the idealogue this campaign, but I suspect he cares less about ideology than he does about the bottom line. He’s a money guy, and he wants to be sure that all the guys in his “in” group are taken care of. This isn’t politics. It’s closer to nepotism. By the same token, President Obama has been more centrist than progressive in his policy. How much of that centrism is due to GOP obstructionism we will probably never know, but the fact remains that when we set aside the talk and look at what has been done the result has been centrist, mildly progressive policy domestically–and quite hawkish action militarily, at least in some respects.

Here’s the thing about medieval English poetry–the stormy, savage world of Beowulf and the warm, sunny, placid world of the Celtic lyric verses were both talking about the same part of the world–the British Isles. The difference in the world each poet sees reflects not what lies around him, but what he sees in himself. That’s this election. Both men claim to be offering us what we want most–safety, but if we can extrapolate from their past lives and their prevailing spoken remarks (I’m purposely excluding campaign stuff, because I really don’t see how we can evaluate Mr. Romney in a meaningful way if we include it–his spoken remarks have been inconsistent, nonsensical, and mutually exclusive in many cases) we can see that the men believe that safety is best achieved in opposite ways.

Mr. Romney believes that we are safest behind strong walls, excluding everyone we have decided is not like us, caring only for those who are inside the walls with us. He sees our national life as an exercise in wall-building–making the walls bigger and stronger, and taller, and if doing that means that we take supplies from those who are not within our walls, well, that’s just the way it is. Likewise, when time, money, and resources must be spent everything goes to building the wall. The idea of investing for the coming winter, of seeing to it that those who serve the “in” group have enough to eat and warm clothes to wear, comes a distant second. What matters is the “in” group, and the wall.

President Obama believes that we are more than our walls–that while a good wall is necessary, true safety can only be achieved by recognizing that we are part of a larger community–by forming alliances, by learning to appreciate the diversity and beauty that lies around us, but understanding that we are safest when our social safety net is wide-flung, strong, and inclusive. He believes we are safest when we have good, strong walls–and can navigate the world both inside and out. After all, Beowulf only manages to deal with Grendel and his mother when he leaves Heorot. Even for Beowulf, walls ultimately failed him. And I fear that Mr. Romney’s walls will fail us, too. Grendel has learned how to find his way inside our walls. And he has some pretty scary bombs out there in the mire.

The last four years have been hard ones. I tried–and failed–to get my house re-financed. I was threatened with foreclosure. My credit card interest rates drove my balances so high that ultimately I was left with no choice but bankruptcy. I’ve been sick–I was recently diagnosed with a life-threatening (but fortunately very treatable) condition. I still don’t have health insurance. There have been times when I couldn’t buy my kid shoes. These years have been hard. And I watched as many of the measures that were supposed to help were watered down and subverted by men more concerned with making sure that all the gold stayed in Heorot.

But here’s the thing. These years have also taught me that I am surrounded by a townful of caring, loving people. They are my safety net, and I am part of theirs. We are not rich. But we understand how to care for each other. And we understand that we are better together. At some point, we have all faced the question of how we will be safe, and we have all recognized that safety lies less in bank balances than it does in relationships. We have all made peace with the idea that we are our brothers’, sisters’, and world’s keepers. And that’s why I’m voting for President Obama again–not because I agree with everything he’s done, but because I believe that we share a vision–we believe that we can best keep each of us safe by keeping all of us safe, inside our walls, and out.

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“Some Dreams Take Work”–because America might be beautiful, but it isn’t always easy. Available at my CafePress Store: http://www.cafepress.com/magicdogpress

I’ve been thinking a lot about patriotism lately. In the 2008 elections Sarah Palin talked a lot about “Ril Amuricans”-who they are, where they live, where they go to church, to whom they pray. She praised the screaming, rage-fulled crowds at her rallies for their american-ness. She spent a lot of time insinuating that then-Candidate Obama wasn’t  a “Ril Amurican,” that “he doesn’t see America like you and I see America.”

Many on the right side of the political spectrum have followed her lead. Patriotism has come to be associated with tight-jawed people in three-cornered hats, carrying guns to political and presidential events, with a set of values that disenfranchises millions, that seeks to impose a narrow set of religious beliefs in the name of “American values.”

I realized the other day that I had conceded patriotism to a political and social group that quite frankly frightens me–that seems to be trying to strip away the very parts of America that I find most important.

It’s the Fourth of July. I went out and sat on my lawn and watched The Boy and his buddy set off our legal fireworks. In between our beautiful, jewel-like little fire fountains I listened to the huge cannons, and oohed and ahhed at the gigantic golden chrysanthemums, the umbrellas of flickering fire, and the shooting stars the scofflaws on both sides of me were setting off. I don’t know where they get the fireworks, but it happens every July Fourth–the skies light up, and I sit out on my thoroughly-watered lawn, swat mosquitoes, and enjoy the show.

Tonight I thought about our town. I don’t know how much truth there is to it, but local legend holds that our skies full of fireworks happen because of our large migrant population–they bring their enormous fireworks, and come Fourth of July it’s like the battle of Fort Sumpter all over again, but with fewer blown-up buildings and burning boats.

The irony of this, of course, is that our most American of holidays is made more American because of the non-citizens in our midst. We have our problems–yesterday I noticed that somebody’s tagging around town, and that makes me sad. We are not perfect. But citizens or not, and despite our differences, we are all real Americans, and we all inhabit real America.

That means that I have to understand that America is big enough to hold the Tea Party and the Progressives, the GOP and the Democrats, ethnic and racial groups of all descriptions, lovers of all or no genders. America isn’t an apple pie–it’s a fruit salad, and some of us are fruitier than others.

And so today, I am a patriot. I love the symbolism of the flag. I choke up at the “National Anthem.” I believe Katherine Lee Bates had my part of America in mind when she wrote the lines,

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

I believe that everyone deserves the tools from which to build success–what you do with them is up to you. I believe that no child should go to bed hungry. I believe that we all deserve healthcare, housing, and education at a fair price. I believe that while success is American, success achieved by harming others isn’t. I believe in good neighbors, vegetable gardens, and keeping religion out of politics. I believe kids need to learn how to think clearly, to play fair, and to put themselves in others’ shoes.

I believe that we don’t have to have the same values, cultures, or traditions to like and respect each other. I believe we all make potato salad and fried chicken a little differently, and it’s okay. I believe we don’t all have to agree, but we do have to listen to each other, and differ respectfully.

And I believe I’ll go outside and watch a few more fireworks, and maybe sing “America the Beautiful,” until my throat tightens. Because America is beautiful, and I am lucky to be here.

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I just paid a visit to Gryphen at The Immoral Minority, one of my favorite blogs. He’s one of the Alaskan bloggers I stumbled upon back during the 2008 presidential campaign, and though my faithfulness has waned a bit in the years since the election the last couple of weeks I’ve found myself curious to see what’s up by him. He’s an unabashed liberal, and I lean that way, so I often find him entertaining, even if sometimes he does make me wince a bit.

Anyhow, today’s post was a response a response someone made to a post earlier today (Gryphen is clearly more devoted to his blog than I am to this one; as far as I can remember, this is the first time ever I’ve posted twice in one day). It was a little confusing, but basically here’s what I’ve pieced together. Gryphen came across a picture of President Obama with a crowd. In the foreground is a little African American girl. Her face bears tribal paint. She is saluting.

It’s a lovely picture, and Gryphen says so under the heading, “Leaders Should Inspire. Clearly This One Does.” He speaks of pride, and inspiration, and how this picture expresses those feelings for him, and invites readers to comment on their own response to the photo. Go read his post; you really should.

As I noted, Gryphen is an unabashed liberal blogger from Alaska who achieved a certain level of name recognition in the last election. Along with that recognition he also acquired a number of followers who are clearly Not Admirers of President Obama or his good pal Gryphen, but of Sarah Palin. And one of those followers was apparently up and angry at 3am this morning. Gryphen’s post went up at 3. By five minutes after three there was an scorching response informing Gryphen that if he were more open-minded it would remind him of Ms. Palin–I believe the word “adore” was thrown around. Apparently there was a picture attached, because in his follow-up post Gryphen posts a response to the angry blogger, along with the picture he or she provided. Here it is:

To me, both pictures show a politician interacting with a crowd. The Obama crowd seems happy. The girl who is saluting sums up something important for many of us.

To me, the Palin photo also shows a happy, perhaps somewhat raucous, crowd. The little girl seems a bit shy, but overall the subject matter seems more similar than different.

So while I don’t necessarily see the same thing in this photo that the folks at The Immoral Minority seem to see, I am left with Gryphen’s headline: “Leaders Should Inspire…”

And I find myself thinking of the post I wrote on Inauguration Day in 2009, on my now-pretty-much-defunct political blog. I posted it just before I wrote this one, so it’s right here. It’s sort of long, mostly about how I spent the day fighting with an abusive collection agency on behalf of my neighbor lady, but here’s the guts of it:

… there is something incredibly beautiful and moving about a nation devoted to equality, to respect, to dreams. There is something powerful about the sweep and bounty of it, the scope of a vision that spans a continent, and a hodgepodge of peoples who when it comes down to it all want the same things: to realize their dreams, to feed their families, and to live with some degree of dignity and freedom.  There is something about the phrase, “…amber waves of grain…”

That lump in my throat has been an embarrassment to me not because I thought the idea of America was foolish, but because I came of age in an era marred by a series of unjust wars, corrupt governance, and cynical, avaricious, money-grubbing politics. I was embarrassed because the gap between what we could be, and what we were as a nation was so great. We had lost our vision. The man I see smiling down at his wife has given it back.

Gryphen’s headline, and the reader’s angry response, brings something into focus for me. Leaders inspire. Like Candidate Obama, Vice-Presidential Candidate Palin also inspired. The difference lies in what they inspire. President Obama inspired hope, inclusivity, civility, and a dream of a better America. Sarah Palin inspired angry mobs.

Three battered years later, President Obama still inspires me to believe that an America where everyone has a fighting chance to succeed is still possible, where the prosperous among us understand that prosperity is a gift to be both accepted with gratitude and shared, where we can express our differences respectfully, where we are all necessary, all valued–and all responsible for each other. He inspires me to believe that the American Dream is for all of us, for me, for you, and for the strangers within our gates. He inspires me to believe that America’s best self is still worth fighting for.  President Obama inspires me to be my best self–and to share that best self with the people in my home and community.

But the issue is broader than that. After all, President Obama is, well, the President. Sarah Palin has chosen not to run for office. A fairer comparison these days might be between what the two parties seem to be offering at the moment. Who inspires conversation? Who inspires their followers to listen? Who inspires compromise? Who reminds America that we truly do succeed or fail as a nation, and that as Americans we have taken pride in the fact that we are all created equal, and that every child born in America is entitled to tools to carve out his or her own success? And who is dedicated to dividing us, into perpetuating their power by rendering us powerless? At their most fundamental level, they are pursuing a policy of division–Democrats vs. Republicans, union vs. non-union, rich vs. poor, men vs. women, conservatives vs. liberals, Wall Street vs. Main Street, country vs. city, Christian vs. everyone else, those who “belong” vs. immigrants.

Who is willing to compromise? And who is holding the nation hostage, hoping for national failure to improve their chances of seizing power? And who is not even taking the trouble to conceal their basic priority? Does that inspire you? If so, how?

What it comes down to for me is simple. It’s not just a matter of which leader inspires me–what’s more important is what a leader inspires me to do. I will vote for President Obama again not because I have profited financially from his administration–hamstrung as Congress has been by Republican intransigence I have come to believe that simply limiting the harm they have been able to inflict is a worthy achievement. It’s not even because I think he believes like I do on policy. I will vote for him because he inspires me to be a better person.

 

 

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